INTD Aging, Sex and the Body

We all grow old (if we are so lucky!).  But who wants to be called "old"?  In this course, we will consider what it means to label someone as "young" or as "old," especially knowing that these labels exist on the continuum of individual lifetimes, and may have very different meanings for women and men.

"Why are girls in the 20s having Botox put in their faces? Or in their 30s, having tummy-tucks and new breast implants, being terrified of becoming 40? This is terrible."
-Actress Doris Roberts

This course works from the premise that the images and representations of aging we see around us significantly shape the ways we imagine what our own aging can, will and should be like.  Moreover, as the expectations about aging that we bring to the process shape our actual experience of aging, as well as the way we perceive and behave toward those who are aging around us, these cultural representations can have direct, material force on people's lives. Thus, as a class, we will explore popular culture representations of aging in general, and of aging women in particular, to ask what assumptions about aging and sex fuel these representations, and what effect do they have?  What tools – medical, scientific, cultural, personal, etc. – do individuals in American culture have on hand with which to make sense of and impact their own experience of aging?

"Old age is an excellent time for outrage."
-Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers

We will spend the first few weeks of class determining just what we mean when we say "popular culture" and how we might go about studying it, particularly with attention to questions of aging and gender.  After arming ourselves with a toolbox of concepts, vocabulary and questions, we will move on to explore three thematic clusters.  The first will focus on the themes of Productivity, (In)Dependence and Identity, and will cover such topics as work, retirement, social roles, living arrangements and autonomy.  The second cluster will focus on the Medicalized and (De)Sexualized Aging Body, covering topics like mental health, menopause, and reproduction and sexuality in later life.   The final cluster will look at "Anti-Aging" Culture, including the gendered appeals of anti-aging commercial products, plastic surgery, and the way "youth" is sold as a different commodity for women than for men.  Aided by the insights of scholarly articles, we will turn our analytical eyes to television, the silver screen, fiction, newspapers, magazines and advertisements to explore how aging is being represented in American culture, and how that representation is influenced by gender, sexuality, race and class. What sorts of stories are being told about aging in popular culture today? And more importantly, how might they be told differently and with what consequences?

"There's that 'You're only as old as you feel' business, which is fine to a point, but you can't be Shirley Temple on the Good Ship Lollipop forever. Sooner or later, dammit, you're old."
-Actress Joan Crawford

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